Dog Medication: What Can I Give My Dog for an Upset Stomach? · The Wildest

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What Can I Give My Dog for an Upset Stomach?

It stinks to see them uncomfortable. Here’s what you can do.

by Melanie Glass
June 12, 2024
Woman kisses her black pit bull dog on the head.
itla / Stocksy

Gastrointestinal upset from vomiting, diarrhea, and poor appetite, can be a common issue for our dogs. Although directed treatment depends on the underlying cause, for a dog who is otherwise well, a bland diet or a few over-the-counter drugs can be a part of the plan to alleviate symptoms. Your vet may recommend Famotidine (Pepcid) or omeprazole (Prilosec) to soothe gastrointestinal discomfort.

As with many medical symptoms, tummy trouble can indicate something more serious that needs a workup, so it’s always best to check with your veterinarian prior to attempting home remedies and over-the-counter options.

Importance of addressing stomach upset in dogs

When our pups are showing any of the classic signs of an upset stomach, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or poor appetite, it is obviously very upsetting to witness. Most of the time, if the pet is otherwise well and the signs are acute (rapid onset), it is likely something mild like gastroenteritis, or irritation of the GI tract from something like unusual or irritating foods or exposure to bacteria or viruses.

However, there is a long list of potential causes that your vet may have to rule out to get to the underlying issue. If signs are severe, persistent, or accompany other systemic signs like low energy, it warrants a trip to the vet as soon as possible. Generally, the sooner you can address these issues, the better chance you have of effectively intervening to prevent any worsening and ongoing distress that your pet is in.

Common medications used to address stomach upset in pets

Luckily, there are many medications — both over-the-counter and prescription — that your veterinarian can recommend to help your pooch overcome an upset stomach. Even for the over-the-counter options, you should consult your veterinarian prior to administering any medications to your dog.

Not only can your vet ensure you are giving the correct dose, they can ensure it’s the best option for your pet’s particular situation. Giving any medication without the input from your dog’s doctor could also mask a serious problem that if left untreated could pose a life-threatening risk. 

Over-the-counter medications

  • Pepcid (famotidine) is an antihistamine human drug that works by blocking a histamine receptor in the stomach that produces acid. This drug is especially useful when there is concern for stomach ulceration or an irritant is suspected, like NSAIDs or a toxin. Reducing acid can also be useful for cases of acute vomiting because of esophageal irritation that occurs from exposure to acid from stomach contents. In dogs, it also has a mild anti-nausea property.

  • Pepcid is given as a pill or injection once or twice a day and starts to take an effect in one to two hours, but its effects are not always noticeable right away. It is most effective if given one hour prior to the first meal and with an empty stomach. It can prevent absorption of common antibiotics and anti-fungals so should be taken with caution if your pet is on other prescription medications.

  • Prilosec (omeprazole) is also an anti-acid medication but is much more powerful and works to inhibit proton pumps in the stomach to decrease stomach acid production, also useful for stomach ulceration or irritation.

  • Omeprazole is only available as a pill and takes three to five days to take full effect, limiting its help for immediate relief or for when the pet parent does not give it their dog consistently. Like Pepcid, it is ideally given on an empty stomach and generally has a lower risk of side effects, like mild GI upset. This drug also has potential interactions with drugs that require higher acid levels to be absorbed and reduces the liver’s ability to process certain drugs normally, potentially leading to higher drug build-up in the system.

    Altering the bacteria-killing pH of the stomach for a prolonged period comes with the risk of bacterial overgrowth and various infections. In humans, drugs like omeprazole may also injure the kidneys, cause bone fractures, and nutrient deficiencies.

  • Probiotics: Dysbiosis is a poorly understood process in which there is a disruption of the normal gut bacterial balance, with reduced numbers of good bacteria. It appears that many factors can have big impacts on the balance of microbes in the gut (the microbiome). Antibiotic use, exposure to harmful germs, allergies, and even stress can create an unbalanced gut. Probiotics may help restore the GI tract after an insult and get a patient back to normal sooner.

  • Bland diet: One of the first and easiest things to do at home with mild GI signs is feed your pup a bland diet. Low-fiber carbohydrates, such as boiled chicken and white rice, is a great choice. Small meals are best to start and when your dog is feeling better, slowly reintroducing their normal diet can be more gentle on the gut.

Prescription medications

  • Cerenia (maropitant) is a fascinating drug that works in the brain by inhibiting a neurotransmitter that causes vomiting. It is a powerful anti-vomiting drug and a staple for veterinarians to provide their vomiting patients relief. This drug may also have anti-nausea, anti-pain, and anti-inflammatory properties.

    It can be highly effective for pets who experience motion sickness and appears to work well to prevent vomiting associated with anesthesia. It is given once a day by mouth or injection and has a very low risk of side effects, even at higher doses. The most common side effect is vomiting the pill up or foaming after tasting it.

  • Zofran (ondansetron) is a human drug that works to block a certain serration receptor both in the brain and different parts of the body to not only stop vomiting but stop and prevent nausea. There are still only few veterinary specific studies, but it does appear to be effective for GI relief in dogs and can be particularly useful when used for nausea associated with anesthesia or chemotherapy.

    This medication is available in both pill and injection and works within an hour or two. It is considered very safe, with uncommon side effects, such as sleepiness or constipation, reported. Because it works to block serotonin receptors, other drugs, like trazodone and tramadol, that have similar mechanisms have to be used cautiously when used together. Your vet will want to prevent too much serotonin build-up in nerve synapses, a rare condition called serotonin syndrome.

  • Flagyl (metronidazole) is an antibiotic prescribed for certain parasites but also has historically been readily prescribed to stop acute, unclassified diarrhea. Its exact mechanism is not fully understood but seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the colon. However, there are no definitive studies that show this antibiotic shortens the duration of bouts of diarrhea.

    It likely also comes at the cost of dysbiosis, or unhealthy balance of gut bacteria.  When metronidazole works, it may be a quick fix that makes the issue worse in the long run. It is generally well-tolerated but can have GI side effects and neurotoxicity with higher or prolonged dosing. It has a notoriously bitter taste and can be challenging to administer.

  • Entyce (capromorelin) is an oral appetite stimulant to encourage a pet with a poor appetite to eat and support them during a period of illness. It is dosed daily until appetite has returned to normal. It works by mimicking hunger hormones and targets receptors in both the brain and stomach. Quick return to eating is vital for recovery, especially to heal the gastrointestinal track during and after illness.

    It’s generally very safe but should be used with caution in animals with liver and kidney disease, as well as diabetics and those with Cushing’s disease. Low blood pressure has also been reported, so certain cardiac patients may not be candidates for this drug.

  • Reglan (metoclopramide) is an oral and injectable promotility medication that helps encourage movement of a stagnant gut (ileus), reduces acid reflux, and provides some anti-nausea properties in dogs. It is especially useful for nausea in chemotherapy patients, viral ileus, and post operative ileus. It has a complex mechanism of action, both blocking dopamine receptors and blocking and stimulating certain serotonin receptors in the brain and gut.

    Because metoclopramide works directly on the brain, it cannot be used on animals who have seizure disorders, as it can precipitate seizures. It generally is well-tolerated with sedation being a common side effect. It can interact with other medications that have effects on the brain. Common medications of concern may be acepromazine for sedation, selegiline for senility, and mirtazapine for appetite. It should never be used in animals where a blockage of the GI tract is suspected, like a foreign body or tumor.

  • Other medications are employed depending on the cause, such as steroids if the underlying problem is inflammatory or autoimmune, dewormers for parasites, and prescription diets for adverse food reactions.

When does a dog need medication for an upset stomach? 

If your pup is experiencing moderate or severe gastrointestinal upset, they will likely benefit from medications and a workup, so you should consult your vet to make a treatment plan. Warning signs may include more than one or two episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, symptoms that last more than 24 hours, concurrent poor energy, blood in the stool or vomit, or black or tarry appearing stools.

It is also worrisome if episodes of upset stomach recur or are accompanied by other unusual symptoms, like increased thirst or urination, or straining to urinate. Even if your vet deems the underlying cause mild, medical intervention can help them feel better quickly and provide you peace of mind that something more serious isn’t going on.

Upset stomach is a catch-all phrase that can represent myriad medical conditions. This requires veterinary intervention to properly identify the cause and direct appropriate therapy. As demonstrated above, the medication choices can be complex with various factors that must be considered prior to administering any drugs. It’s always best to consult a vet to help make the best choice for your pet’s health.

FAQs (People also ask):

Is Pepto-Bismol safe for a dog’s upset stomach?

No. Pepto-Bismol carries risks of serious side effects and provides minimal benefit. It is best to avoid the potential complications associated with this drug. The safest choice is to consult your dog’s veterinarian for more effective, lower-risk options.

What human stomach medicine can dogs take?

Many of the human medications taken for upset stomach are also employed by veterinarians for their canine patients. Over-the-counter medications like famotidine (Pepcid) and omeprazole (Priolsec) can be used with direction by your vet.

What medications can cause an upset stomach in dogs? 

Upset stomach is one of the most frequent side-effects of taking any medication. Commonly prescribed pain medications in dogs, like the NSAID carprofen, have a risk of vomiting, diarrhea, and poor appetite. Antibiotics and medications for anxiety like trazodone also are routinely recommended medications that can cause GI distress.


Melanie Glass holds a cat.

Melanie Glass

Melanie Glass is a veterinarian practicing in New York City, currently working in shelters and private practice. She is particularly passionate about feline medicine, dentistry, surgery, and animal welfare. When not working, she balances training for road races in Central Park, exploring with city with friends, and quality time reading at home with her cats, Christina Crawford, Rosalind Franklin, and Starfish.

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